Jon Eriquezzo is having trouble getting the food he needs through national supply chains to deliver nutritious meals to seniors and people who are homemakers, and as president of Hillsborough Meals on Wheels, that’s a problem. But locally, on pantries and farms, he is experiencing a surplus.
Food chambers, meanwhile, have turned down deliveries because they do not have storage space and food is not moving fast enough off their shelves, say state employees who administer an emergency aid program.
But that surplus does not mean the state has solved its problems of hunger and food insecurity, according to advocates. They point to the nearly 80,000 people who reported not having enough to eat in the last seven days in Census Pulse data from early February, figures raised by 30,000 since September last year. This comes at a time when one in four people have trouble paying for the basic household expenses.
“It’s not what people do not need,” said Laura Milliken, CEO of New Hampshire Hunger Solutions.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Participation in these programs is low, Milliken said. She pointed to the SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, which is at a 10-year low in terms of participation and continues to fall under the pandemic without a clear explanation as to why. “We are honestly not 100 percent sure why that is,” she said, although she noted that the state has not prioritized helping people access the program for years.
New Hampshire lags behind other states, ranking 39thth in the nation when it comes to SNAP participation and 47th in the nation for participation in school breakfast.
The consequences of low participation are clear. “There is a lot of data showing that children who eat breakfast at school have improved their eating habits, have improved academic performance, have fewer behavioral problems and fewer trips to the nurse, stronger attendance, stronger graduation, and there are long-term studies that show “Children who ate breakfast at school do better in life,” Milliken said. “Children who get breakfast earn even more than those who do not,” she said.
And low participation in SNAP means that federal dollars are rejected, which can be channeled into the local economy – as an estimated $ 37.9 million in federal funds that could have come to the state in 2019, the 17,000 children who were eligible but not enrolled had used the program. In addition to these children, the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute estimated that there were thousands more eligible adults who did not use the program. Financial analysis from Moody’s has shown that every dollar spent on the program generates over $ 1.50 in economic activity.
A bill before the Legislative Assembly will create a nationwide outreach plan, a measure that advocates hoping will increase participation. Neighboring states with outreach plans in place see higher participation in their programs – meanwhile, New Hampshire has not had an outreach plan for five years. Senate Bill 404 would change that by instructing the Department of Health and Human Services to create a plan that would provide guidance on eligibility and help access the program. If the program receives federal approval, half of the funding will come from the federal government. Milliken said private organizations, like nonprofit partners, could raise the remaining 50 percent to match the federal money.
Eriquezzo said Hillsborough Meals on Wheels has already trained some employees in SNAP enrollment, so when they make admission, they can help people who qualify to enroll. The legislation, he said, recognizes that hunger is a nationwide problem.
When it comes to food shortages, Eriquezzo enumerates his problem to the strangeness of the supply chain, which he began to notice in July last year. Hillsborough Meals on Wheels collects anywhere between 7,500 and 8,000 meals a week – a significant operation that requires plenty of logistics to go right. He would get a note from the kitchen that put the meals together, stating, for example, that they were missing 200 bushels of broccoli, so they had to make corn instead. Substitution does not seem like a big deal, Eriquezzo said, but the program is required to meet dietary measurements for seniors set by the federal government. If they do not, they will not be paid and will not be able to get food for those who need it.
There were other problems as well – such as the lack of plastic bags, which meant that items such as bread and cookies could not be distributed. Milk distribution was another problem; it went badly and Eriquezzo found out that it was due to lack of truck drivers that meant the drivers had longer routes.
For Eriquezzo, these problems down the supply chain mean he risks not being able to deliver meals to those who depend on them. The program examines the participants and asks if people get other visitors besides food delivery from Meals on Wheels. Before the pandemic, about 20 percent of people said they were not; during the pandemic, that percentage rose up to 60 percent where it has been for two years.
These wellness checks – the only visit that many people in the program receive – also hang in the balance. Without the meal, there is no funding to check in.
Eriquezzo said building his own commercial kitchen would provide more flexibility and allow him to use the surplus food he has seen in the state. “We see the problems, and instead of making it sneak up on us and just happen, we have to be prepared and have a plan B, because the answer can not be that we do not deliver,” he said. “It’s not just the food we give the seniors, it’s the wellness check. It’s about making sure people are okay. ”
It could also allow him to use other federal programs, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). This program secures truckloads of food to the state, but Katie Daley, a federal chief of staff who manages the program for the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services, said pantries have turned down food supplies due to lack of space and demand.
“Food pantries and soup kitchens across the state often reject our deliveries because they do not have enough capacity. They do not receive as many families as they were pre-pandemic,” Daley said.
Particularly shocking to her was when the pantries began to reject peanut butter, a food that has a high protein content and lasts for a long time.
Sue Houck, president and chief operating officer of Loudon Food Pantry, said she has a lot of TEFAP food. “We are lucky,” she said. “I found room for it, but I know there are many other pantries that are much smaller that would have a hard time storing it.”
Some federal dollars set aside for the TEFAP program have not been used. Of the $ 1.4 million available for one kind of order, about $ 815,500 was spent. Daley said this is because she places orders for the truck and takes into account many variables to prevent food waste from occurring.
“The idea that we are not necessarily using our funds is not accurate,” she said. “We bring in a huge amount of food and give over half a million pounds a month.”
Daley said supply outweighs New Hampshire’s demand for TEFAP food, a situation the department believes is due to the abundance of resources offered during the pandemic, such as stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, P-EBTand the mobile pantries operated by the New Hampshire Food Bank.
For Eriquezzo, it is about removing bureaucracy and navigating bureaucracy to get food in the hands of those who need it. “We need to get the food to where it needs to be,” he said.